New Database Shows Residents What's In Their Water

The database includes test results collected from nearly 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states.

by Ian Cummings, The Kansas City Star / August 7, 2017

(TNS) -- Everyone has heard the advice: Drink eight glasses of water a day.

But do you know what’s in that water?

It’s easy to check, using a database published last week by the national Environmental Working Group, which allows anyone to punch in their ZIP code and see a list of potentially harmful chemicals found in the local tap water.

The database, which includes water utilities from all over the Kansas City area, shows test results collected from nearly 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states.

Among the Kansas City area water utilities residents can check in the database are KC Water Services, which provides drinking water in Kansas City, and Water One, which serves much of Johnson County.

A check of the database shows generally favorable results for both utilities, which meet federal health guidelines. Most of the chemicals — measured in parts per billion — found there were byproducts of water treatment, and most were found in concentrations less than the state and national averages.

KC Water Laboratory Manager David Greene said the information in the database is mostly accurate and indicated no need for alarm.

“The water is safe,” Greene said. “These are ultra-low levels. As the technology allows us to see lower and lower amounts of these chemicals, you start to see things you couldn’t see before.”

The EWG database highlights chemicals found at levels exceeding some health guidelines recommended by public health officials in California, but within legal safety limits — which aren’t always the same, as Ken Cook, the president of the EWG, said in a statement about the project.

“Just because your tap water gets a passing grade from the government doesn’t always mean it’s safe,” Cook said.

Some chemicals have no legal limits under federal law, or are being studied for possible regulation in the future.

Water data from KC Water and Water One showed a list of about a half-dozen chemicals, none exceeding legal limits. Among them are an industrial pollutant, a herbicide and hormones.

In some cases, local water supplies showed chemicals at higher than average concentrations.

Both Kansas City and Johnson County recorded higher than average levels of hexavalent chromium, also known as chrome 6, a cancer-causing heavy metal made famous by the movie “Erin Brokovich” — but at concentrations far lower than than those depicted in the film.

The federal government has no legal limits on chrome 6 in drinking water. The state of California is working on regulations.

Johnson County water also showed higher than average levels of atrazine, a herbicide.

Water One officials in Johnson County said they were aware of the EWG database and did not think it showed any lack of safety in the utility’s water.

In many cases, the database compared chemical levels in the water with health guidelines developed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which are often more strict than limits set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

“We are bound by law to meet and exceed regulatory requirements to ensure our water is safe, which we proudly do,” Water One said in a written statement.

The American Water Works Association, which represents thousands of public water utilities across the country, also downplayed the database results because the EWG compared chemical levels with the more strict California guidelines.

Both KC Water and Water One also publish their own annual water quality reports, available online.

Numerous other water utilities that serve customers in the Kansas City area can also be checked in the database.

For those who want to make their drinking water cleaner, the EWG recommends home water filters but not bottled water, which the group says is often just filtered tap water.

©2017 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.